Category: Harassment

Signs of the Times for Sex Offenders

restaurant-small1by Michael M.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words.  For those who say that being on the sex offender registry is simply a minor administrative inconvenience for registrants which allows law enforcement to better track their whereabouts and activities, here are a few pictures to refute that notion.

Imagine becoming the target of these “good neighbors,” after your incarceration has been completed, after your fines and victim compensation have been paid, after you’ve served your probation, been through your SO treatment program, and made peace with your family, friends, associates, and your God.

Like anyone who has paid an awful price for you crime, you just want to move forward and build a good life for you and for your family.  Supposedly, that’s what society wants, too.  Re-integrating former offenders back into society to live a productive, crime-free lives is the stated goal of our criminal justice system.

But then this sort of thing happens…

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The next door neighbor of a Robinwood, Alabama sex offender resorted to erecting this sign in an effort to force the registrant to move out of the neighborhood in November, 2016.

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In Nassau County, Florida, the local Sheriff’s Department erects these red signs in the yards of known sex offenders during Halloween season.

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A woman in Marion County, Florida put signs in her front lawn and on telephone poles on her street to warn everyone that a sex offender lived six houses down the street from her.

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One Arkansas father discovered his 16-year-old daughter was having a sexual relationship with a 21-year-old man. But when the concerned dad brought his findings to the police, there was nothing they could do because she was over the age of consent.  So he did this:

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This registrant was sentenced by a local judge to walk up and down the main thoroughfare of his town in Petersburg, Indiana wearing a sign that said, “Registered Sex Offender Who Bought Alcohol for Kids.”

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What, exactly, do these “good neighbors” expect will happen as a result of their actions?    Human beings and their families don’t just go *poof* – disappearing, never to be seen again.  They continue to exist, perhaps not on your street, but on someone else’s street, somewhere else.  And you’ve created an entire caste of people – including the spouses and children of offenders – who may become bitter, unemployed, or homeless as a result.  Hopeless people are dangerous people.

If you’re one of the people helping to create this growing body of social lepers in our society, you’ll have only yourself to blame for the unintended consequences of your insane short-sightedness.

The SO Registry’s Deadly Collateral Damage

restaurant-small1by Michael M., NARSOL & The Registry Report

It is easy for some people to feel that no matter how oppressive the hardships imposed upon former sex offenders may be, they probably deserved it.  The most common refrain we see posted by unsympathetic social media commenters typically contains some variation of, “He (or she) should have thought of that before they committed their crimes!”  While such a response may be emotionally satisfying for the person who makes such a statement, the unspoken assumption is that any punishment, no matter how cruel, can be justified by the fact that you’ve committed a crime, no matter how trivial.  Oh, so you were beheaded for jaywalking?  Well, you should have thought about that before you stepped outside the crosswalk!

It also completely ignores the plight of the innocent bystanders who often bear the brunt of our country’s draconian sex offender registration laws. The families, friends, employers, landlords, and associates of former sex offenders often become the unintended casualties of the current wave of anti-sex-offender hysteria sweeping the nation.  Recent studies have begun referring to these tangential victims as “collateral damage,” as if we were talking about accidentally backing the car into the neighbor’s mailbox, rather than the complete destruction of innocent people’s lives.

By the way, it isn’t just the families and associates of sex offenders who suffer.  Most of the states will admit that their sex offender registries are difficult to maintain and contain inaccuracies.  One study discovered that as many as 25% of the addresses on the registry were incorrect, which resulted in the addresses of family homes where no one was a registered sex offender being listed on the registry.  A Detroit, Michigan couple didn’t learn that their address was incorrectly listed on the registry until they tried to sell their home.  They reported the error to the local police, who told them that nothing could be done about the problem until they tracked down the former owner who bought the house three years previously from a registered sex offender.

sign1In Cleveland, Ohio at least one large real estate brokerage’s property questionnaire includes the question, “Have you ever been notified that a registered sex offender was living in the neighborhood?”  Say yes, and your property value may plunge.  In other words, you don’t have to be a sex offender; you don’t even have to know a sex offender, to be “collaterally damaged” by social hysteria.

For the families of former sex offenders, it can be much, much worse.

evictionOne eleven-year old juvenile sex offender’s profile popped up during their landlord’s internet search for offenders, and the boy’s family was given two days to move out of their home.  In Fallon, Nevada, a registrant’s failure to update his information in the registry resulted in news stories which, in turn, led to death threats, burglary, and vandalism against his innocent wife.

The 8-year old daughter of a registered sex offender whose offense was 31 years in the past found herself at the center of a public outcry when her school sent out information about area sex offenders in 2007.  She immediately began feeling the effects of being disinvited from events and shunned by friends. The following year, in middle school, she became the constant target of sexual harassment and lewd propositions.  Eventually, her family left the country in 2013 to escape the persecution.

Research into the “collateral damage” suffered by family members of RSOs reveals that 49% often felt afraid for their own safety as a result of their family member being on the registry.  66% said that shame and embarrassment often kept them from participating in community activities, and 77% experienced feelings of isolation as a result.

aloneThe children of RSOs report alarmingly high rates of suicide ideation, with 13% exhibiting suicidal tendencies. Other reported consequences of being the child of an RSO include harassment (47%), ridicule (59%), physical assaults (22%), depression (77%), and anger (80%).

Sadly, one needn’t be related to a sex offender in any way to be “collaterally damaged.”  A widely reported recent story from Kissimmee, Florida, featured a man who poured gasoline into the motel room and vehicle of four persons he believed to be registered sex offenders with the intent of “barbecuing all the child molesters.”  Two of his intended victims were not RSOs.

In Dallas, Texas, a man who had just moved into an apartment that had recently been vacated by an RSO was mistaken for the previous tenant by a vigilante and beaten with a baseball bat.  In another Dallas case, a man who was mistaken for an RSO was beaten by four men and had his teeth knocked out as his attackers shouted “Child molester!”

In Kern County, California, a 32-year old man was stabbed at least 50 times and his body dumped in the desert after a Facebook rumor falsely alleged that he was a sex offender.

body-outline.jpegA Las Vegas man shot and killed two homeless people because one of them (Alfred Wilhelm, age 53) was an RSO stemming from a 1984 rape conviction in Hawaii.  The second victim (Rhonda Ballow, 27) was an innocent bystander who was killed simply for being a witness to the first murder.

In 2013, a husband and wife team of vigilantes in South Carolina told RSO Charles Parker, 59, “I’m here to kill you because you’re a child molester” before killing him. They then killed his wife, Gretchen Parker, 51, simply because she lived in the same house. Both were shot and stabbed multiple times.

These examples are not as isolated or anomalous as some would have you believe.  We often hear that victims of sexual abuse are afraid to come forward for fear of being disbelieved, but rarely do we consider the fact that victims of registry “collateral damage” are often reluctant to tell their stories for fear of being targeted for further vigilantism and harassment.  For every case that gets reported to law enforcement, there could potentially be dozens more that are endured in silence. Police reports are a matter of public record and are often reported in local news media. What sane person would want to invite even more scrutiny and abuse?

As long as the media continues to stoke the public’s vitriolic anti-sex-offender hysteria and as long as our government continues to furnish vigilantes with a convenient “hit list” (which may or may not even be accurate), absolutely no one is safe from becoming “collateral damage.”

Kids on the Sex Offender Registry

 

restaurant-small1by Michael M., for NARSOL

The headlines today are full of stories of righteous indignation over immigrant children being separated from their families. While that dilemma is certainly newsworthy, the American public seems largely unaware of the fact that tens of thousands of our own children are being taken from their families each year and tossed into a rapacious legal system that chews them up and spits them out as sex offenders.   As hard as it may be to believe, The Department of Justice estimates that there are at least 89,000 children on the sex offender registry, and it should come as no surprise to anyone that it’s destroying their lives.

Imagine, for a moment, what it would be like to have your child listed publicly on the sex offender registry, complete with a photograph, home address, and even a description of the sex crime that resulted in his (or her) inclusion on the list.   Consider what kind of life your child would have if, because of sex offender restrictions, he couldn’t attend school, go to a park or swimming pool, or have a birthday party because other children will be there. Some states simultaneously have laws requiring minors to attend school while at the same time forbidding sex offenders from being anywhere near a school. 44% of sex offenders overall (and presumably juvenile sex offenders, as well) are unable to live with their supportive families due to residency restrictions. Many are forced into foster care, even as bills have been introduced to bar juvenile sex offenders from foster homes and other communal youth facilities.

Elizabeth Letourneau, PhD and professor at the Bloomberg School’s Department of Mental Health and director of the Moore Center for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse said, “Not only is this policy [of putting juveniles on the sex offender registry] stigmatizing and distressing, but it may make children vulnerable to unscrupulous or predatory adults who use the information to target registered children for sexual assault.” Letourneau’s findings in a 2018 study published in Psychology, Public Policy, and Law found that registered children are five times more likely to be approached by an adult for sex than non-registered child sex offenders and four times more likely to have suicidal thoughts.

Other wide-ranging unintended consequences of being a juvenile on the registry include harassment and violence. 52% of juvenile registrants have reported violence or threats of violence which they directly attributed to their inclusion on the registry.   Bruce W., whose two sons (aged 10 and 12) were placed on the registry for an offense against their 10-year old sister, reported that a man once held a shotgun to his 10-year old son’s head. In a 2012 Human Rights Watch interview, one female juvenile registrant said, “I was on the public registry at age 11 for the offense of unlawful sexual contact… Random men called my house wanting to ‘hook up’ with me.” Other HRW interviewees described beatings, drive-by shootings, and even beloved family pets being killed.

Without a doubt, some of the children on the sex offender registry are convicted of horrific crimes which led to appropriately harsh punishments. There are others, however, who end up convicted and branded as sex offenders for what has been characterized as fairly normative behavior for children or teens, such as playing doctor or engaging in sexual exploration. Teens who exchange sexy selfies shouldn’t be charged with creating child pornography. Having consensual sex at that age may be a very stupid thing to do, but it hardly rises to the level of sexual assault or predation.

At least 27 states and one territory require that juveniles must register if they commit a sex offense for which an adult in the same jurisdiction would be required to register.   37 states reserve registration for juveniles convicted of specific qualifying offenses. It is difficult to know exactly how many children have been placed on sex offender registries nationwide, however. Studies regarding children on the sex offender registry are relatively rare, and the states typically do not track information regarding the ages of offenders when they were added to the registry. Human Rights Watch attempted to obtain this information from each of the 50 states, but only two responded – and those with aggregate counts only. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, juvenile sex offenders comprise 25.8% of all sex offenders and 35.6% of sex offenders against juvenile victims. They estimate that in 2004 there were 89,000 juvenile sex offenders known to police.

As for the overall age distribution of these juvenile offenders, there is very little data available. Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, Minnesota, Texas allow juvenile registration at 8-years old.   Massachusetts allows sex offender registration for kids as young as 7-years of age. In 2011, there were 639 children on Delaware’s sex offender registry, 55 of whom were under the age of 12.   In 2009, a study conducted by the Department of Justice discovered that nationwide, one in eight child sex offenders who committed crimes against other children was under the age of 12. Overall, according to the DOJ’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, “Known juvenile offenders who commit sex offenses against minors span a variety of ages. Five percent are younger than 9 years, and 16 percent are younger than 12 years.  The rate rises sharply around age 12 and plateaus after age 14.”

Maya R. was arrested in Michigan at the age of 10 for play-acting sexual scenarios while fully clothed with her step-brothers, aged 5 and 8.  She pled guilty to criminal sexual conduct and was required to register as a sex offender for 25 years.  In many states, when children engage in sexual similar conduct, each child is charged with a crime and is simultaneously listed as the victim in the other’s case.

According to a 2013 Human Rights Watch report, the idiosyncrasies of the juvenile justice system can seriously compound the problems associated with how child offenders end up on the registry.  It is doubtful, for example, that they fully understand their rights to due process and against self-incrimination.  And we really don’t know if they fully comprehend the devastating (and sometimes forever) consequences of pleading guilty before they accept a plea bargain. Even adults can find the plea bargaining process confusing or coercive, even though this is how 94% of all criminal cases are resolved.  Often, these juveniles are not informed that they will be subject to registration until after they have pled guilty, and sometimes not until they have finished serving out their juvenile detention or incarceration.  The decisions made by a 10-year old should never have permanent ramifications that will impact them for the rest of their lives yet, in many of these cases, they do.

The inclusion of juvenile sex offenders on the registry was mandated by SORNA (Sex Offender Registry and Notification Act) and has been a major bone of contention and non-compliance by the states since it was signed into law in 2006.  In 2016, additional guidelines were issued to give states more flexibility in implementing laws regarding juveniles on the registry, but many states remain out of compliance and some of the states who are in compliance are being challenged in the courts. It is worth noting that the DOJ estimate of 89,000 juvenile sex offenders was in 2004, two years before SORNA began pushing the states to put juveniles on the registry. That number is probably much higher now.

The 2018 study in Psychology, Public Policy, and Law supports these legal challenges, finding that “in combination with the available literature indicating that these policies do not improve public safety, the results of this study offer empirical support for the concerns expressed by those calling for the abolition of juvenile registration and notification policies.”

The abomination of having nearly a hundred thousand children on the sex offender registry is just one of the many reasons why SORNA is unconstitutionally cruel and unusual and needs to be repealed now.

How a Phony Cop Gave This Sex Offender a New Mission in Life

by Michael M.

In late March of 2018, I received a phone call at ten-thirty PM on a Sunday night, purportedly from the County Sheriff’s Department. The caller informed me in an officious manner that they had a warrant for my arrest, issued by a local Superior Court Judge for failure to register as required by law. I replied rather matter-of-factly that I have, indeed, registered as required by law, and recited to him the time and date of said registration, as well as the name of the police officer who processed it. The fact that I was holding a photocopy of the paperwork in my hand as I spoke to this person on the phone helped to fortify my outward indignation, even as I felt a growing knot of dread in my stomach.

He was nonplussed, and countered, “You may have registered at the local police department, but you were also supposed to register at the County Sheriff’s Department as well.   You didn’t. You’re non-compliant. Do you want to come down here and get this straightened out right now, or do I need to send an officer out to your place to put you under arrest?”

phoneWhoa, I thought. That got ugly really fast. Maybe just a little too fast. I decided to try and slow things down a bit, so I could better take stock of what was happening here. I said, “No, no… There won’t be any need for that. I’ll be glad to come down to the Sheriff’s office to straighten this all out.   But, you know, it’s eleven PM on a Sunday night. Couldn’t I just come down first thing in the morning and take care of this matter?”

“No,” he replied. “Look, you can come down on your own right now, or I can send a car out to pick you up and bring you in wearing handcuffs. It’s your choice.”

Well, I thought.   Since you put it that way. I asked for the address of the Sheriff’s Department, and he gave it to me. I googled it as we spoke; it checked out.   I asked for his name and noticed a momentary hesitation in his voice before responding. “Why do you need my name?” he asked.

“Well, for starters, the terms of my parole require me to report any contacts I have with law enforcement to my probation officer. And besides, I need to know who to ask for when I get there.”

“My name is Detective Sellers.” he grumbled.

Plenty of yellow flags here, I thought.  First, my requirement is to register with the local police, not with the County Sheriff.  Second, any arrest warrant for a routine matter such as this would have been issued at the latest on the preceding Friday, yet this person was trying to make me believe that it had suddenly become an urgent matter at eleven PM on a Sunday night. And finally, his reluctance to tell me his name made me deeply suspicious.  Even so, I had to play along on the remote chance that any of this was for real.

I said, “Fine, I’ll be there in twenty minutes.”

“Wait!” he quickly interjected, “Do you have a cell phone?  Give me the number.”  And like an idiot, I did.  He then continued, “Here’s how we’re going to do this.  I am going to call you on your cell phone, and you are going to stay on the phone with me the whole time you are en route to the Sheriff’s Department.  That way, I’ll know you are really headed here, and if you get stopped by the police because of the warrant on the way, I can clear things up over the phone with whoever stops you.”

That, I thought, was quite possibly the dumbest thing I’d heard in a long, long time.  But I hid my incredulity and replied with a cheerful “Okey-dokey! Bye!” and abruptly hung up the land-line phone.  I knew I had about thirty seconds before he’d be calling me on my cell, so I immediately called my Probation Officer, instead.  He didn’t answer, which was unsurprising.  It was, after all, pretty late.  I left a brief message, saying, “Please call me back. It’s kind of an emergency.”  In the midst of all that, my phone beeped, indicating that “Detective Sellers” had tried to call me.  I ignored it.

I told my wife I was going to drive down to the local Police Department, rather than to the Sheriff’s Department as instructed.  Hopefully, I’d be able to clear things up there or, at the very least, have some real cops around if things went south.  I told her to avoid answering the landline phone until I got back.  We didn’t have Caller ID at the time because one of the preconditions of my home detention several months earlier was you’re not allowed to have caller ID.  I have no idea why this is a thing.  The better to make you a victim of vigilantes and telemarketers, perhaps.

I got in the car and headed for the police station.  I was about two blocks from home when my Probation Officer (sounding half asleep) returned my call, and I explained the situation to him.  He agreed with my assessment that it was probably a hoax of some kind and advised me to turn around and go back home.

When I got home, I called the (real) Sheriff’s Department and spoke to a very nice deputy named Jeremy who was the only one there.  He verified that they had no one there by the name of Detective Sellers, and that there was no warrant for my arrest.  Even if there was, he told me, they wouldn’t be calling me about it.  They’d just come and arrest me.  Not the most comforting thought, but good to know.

I fumed about it for the rest of the night.  I got no sleep at all.  The more I thought about it, the angrier I got, and the more convinced I became that this was either an attempt to mug me, extort money from me, or burglarize my home while I was away.  If I’d followed his instructions, the caller would have directed me by phone at the last moment to an isolated spot where he and his buddies could apply a little vigilante justice without being interrupted.  Or perhaps, as I pulled into the parking lot, he’d “meet me outside” and offer to make it all go away for a hefty sum of cash.  Another possibility is I’d be left downtown trying to explain to a real Sheriff’s deputy what I was doing there at midnight, while the caller burglarized my home and/or assaulted my wife.  I suppose I’ll never really know what their plan was.

I was angry about the incident for quite a while.  I simply could not fathom why my own government would aid and abet these criminals by publishing my home address and making me and my family targets for extortion and violence.  I have no problem whatsoever with law enforcement knowing who I am, where I live, and what I’ve done.  I do, however, have a problem with that information being given to every Tom, Dick, and vigilante who wants to use that information for their own nefarious purposes.

In every crisis lies an opportunity.  I’m told this is an ancient and venerated Chinese proverb, but then again, I’ve been told a lot of stuff over the years that turned out to be complete bull crap.  Nevertheless, I choose to believe this particular cookie fortune.  After wallowing in my anger and frustration for several weeks, I concluded that whining about my problems wasn’t my style, and it accomplished absolutely nothing.  I decided that it was time to get off my duff and actually do something about it.  God grant me the serenity, blah blah blah… and the wisdom to know the difference, right?

And so here I am, repurposed:  Author. Researcher. Activist. Podcaster. Spokesman. Blogger. Advocate for rational sexual offense laws.  And let’s not forget – fortune cookie believer.  Wish me luck.

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Michael M. is the published author of several non-fiction books, a writer/researcher for NARSOL, and the executive editor of The Registry Report. He also assists NARSOL in marketing, social media, and podcasting. You can follow Michael on Twitter at @RegistryReport.